Amidst all of the news in vaccineland this week, there was a notable (if kind of confusing) bright spot. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians that if we can come together to “crush COVID,” we can all reap the benefits of a “one-dose summer.” Which sounds pretty awesome (and also a bit like the long-awaited followup to last spring’s hit single “Speaking Moistly”). But what does it mean exactly? Errrrrr…...ummmmmm………
Part of the criticism around JT’s announcement is that it’s more of a catchy one and doesn’t provide much in the way of what can I actually do? instruction. His political opponents are already digging in, but in fairness to the PM — after zero-dose winter, we all need something to feel excited about. Of course, two vaxxes would be better than one (thanks, Dr. Doug Ford), but while we wait for that not-so-distant future, there are some things worth celebrating.
Refinery29 spoked to Isha Berry, a PhD candidate in epidemiology at the University of Toronto, to get an expert’s perspective on the dos, the don’ts, and the we-don’t-know-yets. Your best-guess guide to Canada’s one-dose summer, below.
“One-dose summer” sounds awesome! Now tell me what it means.
The PM’s comments were less about a specific set of guidelines (which would be really awesome right now) and more of a rallying cry — a reminder that *if* as many Canadians as possible can get that first shot, we can **probably** start to ease up on current restrictions. A “slightly better summer” is what he said. How much better depends on what part of the country you live in, and how effectively we can bring COVID rates down while bringing vaccine rates up. Not exactly the Extra commercial orgy scenario you were hoping for, but on the plus side, one shot means heightened protection and potentially more fun.
More fun sounds amazing. When does it start?
In a nutshell: Not yet! The PM waxed poetic about bbqs and backyard hangs, but first, he talked about how we have to “crush COVID” (Justin Trudeau action figure sold separately). Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has chimed in with some helpful specifics, saying restrictions can start to relax when vaccination rates hit the 75% mark for one vax (and 20% for two).
At the moment, approximately half of Canadians adults have received that first dose, but since most rules are provincial, it’s those rates you want to pay attention to. “People who are in high case-rate zones Toronto or Calgary are going to be waiting longer than someone in the Maritimes,” says Berry. In places like B.C. and Nova Scotia, a modified approach to patio season is already in semi-swing. Meanwhile, in Ontario, a province where lockdown was recently extended into early June (at least!), the goal is to hit 65% by the end of the month, which makes mid-June a reasonable estimate to hit that 75% single dose target.
How protected am I after one dose? A few weeks ago, we were hearing that people with one shot should behave no differently from unvaccinated individuals. Has something changed?
Nothing has changed in terms of vaccines and efficacy (note: amidst all of the recent chaos, it’s important to remember that all vaccines are really good in this regard). “We know that having the first vaccine is very effective both in terms of protecting from COVID and preventing serious outcomes and hospitalization,” says Berry. The latest research indicates that a first shot provides between 70 and 90% protection (particularly against more severe outcomes), which is what experts have been saying for a while now.
What’s different is the backdrop: “When we first started the vaccine rollout in Canada, we were at a peak exponential growth phase and we didn’t have that many people vaccinated. We were also in the middle of winter, with more people spending their time indoors, which means a greater risk of transmission,” Berry says. This distinction is key. Last year we were freaking out about people gathering outdoors (remember Trinity Bellwoods?). And while nobody is suggesting inviting 10,000 of your friends to a park bender, “our understanding of the risks has changed a lot,” says Berry. The bottom line: “We need to be encouraging folks to do things safely and that means doing things outside.”
How much safer is outdoors?
Not to go all science jargon here, but way, way, waaaaaaaaay safer. Peter Jüni, the head of Ontario’s COVID Science Advisory Table, estimates you are about 20 times less likely to get COVID when you factor in the natural ventilation of the great outdoors. Jüni is one of many experts calling on the Ontario government to lift restrictions on outdoor recreation activities like golf, basketball, tennis, and skate parks, all of which should absolutely be on the one-dose summer menu.
What else? Didn’t Trudeau say something about BBQs?
His exact words were, “we all want to have a summer where we can see our loved ones and invite our friends over for BBQs,” which is both true and sort of hypothetical. Jüni has speculated that groups of 10 (from two different households and outdoors while wearing masks) could be good to gather soon — and that’s in Ontario where things are still pretty desperate. If you live elsewhere, you will probably be looking at less-restrictive options, though now is probably a good time to point out that if your one and only goal is to avoid COVID-19, one-dose summer will feel a lot like zero-dose winter and fall (no contacts, lots of Netflix). “For most people though, it’s helpful to consider safety decisions in terms of risk mitigation.”
Think of fighting COVID like a video game: that first jab gives you a whole bunch of extra lives and then you gain points for following public-health measures (social-distancing, hand-washing, mask-wearing, staying outdoors) and lose points for any risk you assume. “These kinds of individual calculations are why it’s really hard to make blanket statements about whether any given activity is “safe” or “unsafe,” says Berry: “There is almost going to be a safer and less-safe way of doing something.”
So say you’re getting together with friends at the park, you can be the person who is regularly applying hand sani, brings a personal stash of snacks, and says no to the tipsy suggestion that you take the party back to someone’s condo. Or you can be the one who’s digging into the communal chip bag, and forgoing social distance in favour of group selfies. (Hint: Don’t be the second person.)
What about wearing a mask? I heard that was over.
You’re probably thinking of the U.S., where the CDC recently updated its recommendations saying that fully vaccinated individuals can stop wearing masks outside and in most indoor settings. In Canada — sigh — we are not there yet. And won’t be before fall. “I think there is this error of thinking of vaccinations and public health measures as an either/or,” says Berry. “But for now, and for the summer, it’s going to be an ‘and’.”
Could a one-dose summer include travel?
At this point, Canadians are still being advised to avoid international travel; restrictions on interregional adventures are also in effect. The speed at which things open up goes back to the same goals around more vaccinations and less cases of COVID. Many experts believe July and August could allow for increased vacay options, but depending on what happens with vaccine passports, that could be a privilege extended to the double vaxxed. If you’re hedging your bets, book local and stay positive. Tropical getaways are better for winter anyway.
What about cottage weekends?
Definitely this may be an option and possibly a smart one. “If you have a group that you’re bubbled with, then spending time together at a cottage is going to be safer than a neighbourhood BBQ where people are popping in and out,” says Berry. Just keep in mind, she says, that a bubble is not just a COVID-era synonym for a squad. “Bubbling means you are not having close contact outside of that group.”
Also this is all based on the previously discussed parameters (75% vaxxed, low transmission), so if you’re making plans for May 24, you’re moving too fast. “A lot of parts of the country are still in a third wave and we know that that is because last time we opened up too quickly,” says Berry. So sure, get excited for one-dose summer. But for the next month or so we’re still in stay-the-course spring.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.